Education as a Fragmented Culture: A Field Study
Observations and Interpretations on Educational Fragmentation
Paul Grobstein and 2008 Science as Inquiry Institute colleagues
Over fifty years ago, C.P. Snow called attention to what he regarded as an undesirable fragmentation in intellectual life, a "two cultures" split with sciences and humanities relatively disconnected from each other. I was interested in the extent to which this fragmentation still exists and whether there was an additional fragmentation between the "academic" and the "non-academic", both perhaps contributing to students feeling that school work as a whole was not well integrated with their lives in general. To explore this question, I chose to try and assess the unconscious understandings of a group of precollege and college educators.
|Sciences||Humanities||Beyond S & H|
|research||fun||sit down||boring||alma mater||alma mater|
|technology||hard work||experience||not relevant||?||interests|
|sillyness||sillyness||structured||what is it?||happiness||structure|
|knowledge||learning to think||relaxation||reading||sports||video games|
|thinking||how things work||books||art||cell phones|
Before turning to a discussion of the findings themselves, two aspects of methodology need to be addressed. The first is that the sample size was quite small, and in no way should be regarded as representative of K16 educators as a whole: all participants had a commitment to and many had substantial experience as science educators, with a very low representation of people with commitments to and experience as educators in other areas of the curriculum. Both issues will be further discussed as appropriate in connection with particular interpretations of the observations made.
Three important presumptions of these studies is that culture is significantly influenced by an ensemble of individual behaviors, that individual behavior is strongly influenced by the "adaptive unconscious", and that the adaptive unconscious can be effectively assayed by a process of "free association." Space precludes a complete consideration of the legitimacy of any of these three assumptions. Suffice it to say there is adequate support for each of the assumptions in general so long as certain procedural safeguards are followed, and that appropriate attention was given to the needed safeguards. Perhaps the most important remaining concern is the issue of whether educational culture is more affected by "thoughtful and deliberative processes" than by the cognitive unconscious. I suspect it is not, but that question requires a different kind of observations than those provided in this study, and needs to be kept in mind in thinking about the points made below.
There continues to be a two cultures split
This is apparent most obviously in the greater relative frequency with which words with negative and passive connotations ("boring,"tedious,"structured," "controlling") appeared in connection with humanities, as well as the a significant number of participants who were indifferent to or puzzled by the term itself. The non-random sample of the population is directly relevant here. It is conceivable that a group of teachers with primary experience and commitment in the humanities would show less evidence of a two cultures split. My guess though is that one would see with such a group a similar set of responses in reverse, with a relatively higher frequency of words with negative and passive connotations appearing in connection with science. Regardless, the observations reported here do, at a minimum, show that there persists a two cultures divide in the cognitive cognitive unconsciousnesses of a significant number of educators having a primary commitment in the sciences. Notice though that there is a wide variation around any population average. Some teachers used words with similarly positive connotations for both sciences and humanities. It would be interesting in future work to see whether there is any correlation of this with, for example, teaching level, and how both individual and modal responses shift over time.
There is as well an "academic"/"non-academic" split.
This is most apparent in the relatively high frequency of social and emotive words ("people," "love," "faith," family,"community" and the like) in the Beyond Science and Humanities list and the near complete absence in the other two lists. Though less clearly different given the small numbers, it seems also noteworthy that "creativity" and "expand horizons" do not appear in the first two pairs of list but do in the third.
Within the limits of the methodology of this set of observations, it seems to show that the educational community continues to be fragmented in at least ways: a sciences humanities split, and an "academic/non-academic" split. Further work is needed to address the question of whether this fragmentation in turn contributes to students feeling that their school activities do not relate well to their lives in general but it seems likely that the fragmentation plays some role in this. For these reasons, I recommend that greater efforts be made to provide time and resources for K16 educators from different disciplinary backgrounds to spend time together sharing thoughts about curriculum and pedagogical practice, and perhaps even developing some courses in common. There is a clear need as well for greater interaction with "non-academic" professionals in curricular design and pedagogical practice.